EU-funded researchers have developed new bio-processes to create high-value chemicals from the waste resulting from biodiesel production.
With this addition to the circular economy, their achievements promise a better and greener chemical industry.
Biodiesel production to replace fossil fuels is a major element in the decarbonisation of transport and European policies on combatting climate change.
However, while there are around 200 biorefineries making biodiesel in Europe, some 100 others are not operating because they are uneconomic.
Sustainable biodiesel made from biomass such as crops or waste oils is more expensive than unsustainable diesel from oil wells.
An important challenge is to find ways to make biorefineries more profitable.
The EU-funded GRAIL project has investigated ways to transform the waste from biodiesel production into valuable chemical products that could add value to biorefinery’s operations.
Crude glycerol (glycerine) is the main waste product, and Europe’s biodiesel biorefineries are currently producing vast amounts.
Project co-ordinator Carles Estévez of the IUCT in Barcelona said: “GRAIL is partly about giving new life to a widely available waste material, but it is also more.
“Sources of new green chemicals with new properties that are matched to economic needs could have huge potential.”
A main goal of GRAIL is to offer biodiesel refineries a series of add-on processes to produce the widest variety of useful chemicals possible – thus maximising their profitability and sustainability.
The chemical industry is central to the world economy, converting raw materials into tens of thousands of useful products.
Europe is a major manufacturer and exporter of chemicals and plastics, and the sector supports millions of jobs.
GRAIL has shown how a wide variety of high-value chemicals can be produced in a green and cost-effective manner without needing large investments.
Its manufacturing processes are safe and avoid environmental harm.